Get the Most Out of Your Phone Screen Interview Questions

By Robert Half May 19, 2017 at 6:00am

When you're hiring, you can spend a lot of time interviewing job candidates who don't meet your needs before you find one who does. One way to speed up your search is to use the phone screen interview. The answers to key screening questions can allow you to pare down your list and quickly identify the most promising candidates.

What is a phone screen interview? It’s a brief call that can save you the time and trouble involved with meeting job candidates in person who, despite strong resumes, don't satisfy all your needs. The process is straightforward: Once you've finished reviewing resumes and narrowed the applicant pool for your job opening, schedule each of those candidates for this first interview in the hiring process.

The answers to phone interview questions can tell you a lot about whether an applicant is likely to have the right mix of skills and experience for the position and a work style that will suit your office. Plus, a relatively impromptu phone call can give you a better idea of the candidate's interpersonal skills than a formal, rehearsed interview would.

The best phone interview screening questions to ask

Rather than asking open-ended phone interview questions, consider the following categories of screening questions to ask each applicant.

1. Basic information

Stick to the basics and verify information with phone interview questions such as these:

  • Where are you in your job search, and what do you hope to accomplish?
  • When could you start working?

TIP: Make sure you block noise and distractions from your office during your phone interviews.

2. Salary expectations

This is an important question to ask early in the screening, because it will shed light on the candidate’s expectations and whether he or she is making more than what you expect to offer.

  • What is your salary at your current job?
  • How much would you like to earn in this position?

TIP: If you can’t get a clear idea of whether there’s a financial fit, you can revisit the topic of salary later.

3. Desire for the job

Evaluate their work style and interest in this job, along with their motivation for leaving their last one.

  • What reasons do you have for leaving your most recent job?
  • What attracted you to apply for this position?

TIP: Ask follow-up questions, if you need clarification, but keep in mind this is an introductory interview.

4. Knowledge of the company

This will give you a clue about whether the interviewee took the time to do some company research.

  • What attracted you to our organization?
  • What do you know about our products or services?

TIP: Keep brief notes so you can compare answers with other candidates.

5. Issues with the resume

Be sure to raise any concerns or red flags that came up when you read the candidate's resume.

  • What skills have you gained or strengthened recently?
  • What did you do during the yearlong gap in your employment?

TIP: Listen for tone and communication skills.

Planning the phone screening interview

You may choose to plan for shorter or longer calls, but many employers find that it typically takes 15 to 30 minutes to ask all pertinent phone screen interview questions. Make a list of your questions and be consistent with what you ask each candidate so you make fair comparisons.

Be willing to offer phone screening interviews outside of normal business hours for the job candidate’s convenience, particularly if they’re a currently employed passive job seeker.

Before you talk to the candidate, closely read through the resume ahead of time to see if there are any gaps you want to ask about.

Prepare to closely listen for critical thinking, soft skills and fit with your company culture. Listen for negative attitude, low energy, discrepancies and lack of preparedness. Many of the same interview tips for face-to-face meetings can be used for phone interview screening. But, in general, you’ll have fewer phone interview questions to ask and save more in-depth questions for the in-person interview, when you have more time to spend with the candidate and can use body language to help evaluate the responses.

Here are some bonus phone interview questions to ask, in case you’d like more examples:

  • What is a typical day like at your current job?
  • How do you see yourself contributing in this position?
  • What would you hope to get out of this job?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Practice good etiquette during the phone screening interview and keep in mind the candidate is also evaluating you. When you’re conducting 10 or 15 phone screening interviews in a row, it’s easy to race through the questions you ask each person. However, it’s important to sound fully engaged in every conversation. Remember to “sell” your company when you discuss the culture of your firm, and also respect the interviewee’s time by keeping to the schedule.

Phone interview screening red flags

During the interview, it’s important to listen for warning signs that the candidate may not be an ideal match for your company. Here are some potential red flags:

  • A lack of enthusiasm — Does the candidate seem excited about the prospect of working at your firm, or does he seem like he’s simply going through the motions during the interview?
  • No questions — If the interviewee doesn’t have any questions for you about the team, job or firm when asked, it could be a sign that she’s not very interested in the job.
  • Sounding distracted during the interview — If the candidate sounds as though he’s browsing Instagram or otherwise multitasking while speaking to you, it likely means he’s not focused on the interview or getting the job.
  • Negative comments about former employers — It’s never a good sign when an interviewee badmouths a current or former employer. It can mean she takes no responsibility for her own part in workplace dynamics and lacks professionalism.
  • A focus on money — Repeatedly returning to the topic of salary or benefits in the phone screening interview, before a candidate makes it to the next round of interviews, can be a sign he’s primarily focused on money and perks, not the job and company.
  • Cursing — It’s not that cursing never happens in the workplace (it really depends on the culture of each firm or company), but no one should use foul language during an interview. It’s unprofessional and makes you wonder if the person would do the same thing when presenting to management or clients.

Following up on the phone call

If the candidate's answers to your phone screening interview questions don't satisfy you, you've saved yourself the time involved in interviewing that candidate in person.

If the first impression goes well, however, you can move on to the next stage, where you can ask tougher questions, such as: Tell me about a time you failed at something, or What do you expect from a supervisor?

Using phone screen interview questions to narrow the candidate field can be an important part of an effective candidate evaluation process. With a little planning, you can save yourself a lot of time and be that much closer to a successful hire.

We can help you with your phone screen interviews or find you more candidates to call.


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